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State Responsible As Detroit Schools Filled With Illiteracy, Black Mold, Vermin and Dangerous Playgrounds, Lawsuit Claims

LANSING (CBS Detroit) The state of Michigan is being sued over the poor reading skills of Detroit students at five schools, deplorable building conditions, and lack of basic classroom necessities.

Poor conditions in the city's school district have long drawn attention, but directly blaming the state and its governor for it -- and trying to hold them accountable -- is new.

"Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy," the suit claims at it start.

The lawsuit says the schools are in "slum-like conditions" and "functionally incapable of delivering access to literacy." The case, filed Tuesday in federal court, directly accuses Gov. Rick Snyder, the state school board and others of violating the civil rights of low-income students.

The governor's office declined to comment.

The lawsuit says Michigan is responsible for complying with constitutional mandates in education. The lawsuit seeks literacy instruction at all grades, screening for literacy problems and regular oversight.

In 2012, a similar lawsuit was filed in Wayne County court on behalf of Highland Park students. It was ultimately dismissed in favor of the state.

In this suit, it's claimed that Michigan students are required by law to attend school, but those assigned to some buildings in Detroit walk into classrooms that don't even put up a pretense of education.

"This abject failure makes it nearly impossible for young people to attain the level of literacy necessary to function—much less thrive—in higher education, the workforce, and the activities of democratic citizenship," the suit says, adding, "The abysmal conditions and appalling outcomes in Plaintiffs' schools are unprecedented."

Race is an issue in the suit, which also claims the conditions in mostly black Detroit would be "unthinkable in schools serving predominantly white, affluent student populations."

The schools named in the suit are the lowest-performing schools at Detroit Public School Community District: Hamilton Academy, Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody, Osborn Academy of Mathematics and Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy.

Experiencia Preparatory Academy, a privately operated charter school that closed this summer, is also included.

Ninety seven percent of the students in these schools are black, and largely poor.

At Hamilton, 100 percent of sixth-graders scored below proficiency in both reading and math in the 2015-16 M-STEP results.

The suit claims it's not possible for kids to succeed in schools that lack even textbooks and basic supplies.

"Plaintiffs' schools have failed them at every stage of the educational system," the suit says. It also claims:

  • In third grade at Hamilton, only 4.2 percent of students scored proficient or above on the State of Michigan's 2015-16 English assessment test, compared with 46.0% of third-grade students statewide.
  • In practice, this means that many students have a vocabulary of only a couple hundred words. Some students cannot even sound out letters.
  • Last year, the only books in the third-grade classroom at Hamilton were picture books, until the teacher purchased others with her own money more than halfway through the year.
  • Likewise, at Experiencia, only 9.5% of third-grade students scored proficient in English, as compared to 46.0% of third-graders statewide.
  • A number of second and third graders were still working on handwriting and sounding out the letters of the alphabet.

In additional to educational difficulties, the buildings in which students are expected to learn are inadequate, the suit says.

  • Mice, cockroaches, and other vermin regularly inhabit Plaintiffs' classrooms, and the first thing some teachers do each morning is attempt to clean up rodent feces before their students arrive.
  • Hallways and classrooms smell of dead vermin and black mold;
  •  The drinking water in some of the schools is hot, contaminated and undrinkable.
  • Bathrooms are filthy and unkempt; sinks do not work; toilet stalls lack doors and toilet paper.
  • In some classrooms, ceiling tiles and plaster regularly fall during class time.
  • In one elementary school, the playground slide has jagged edges, causing students to tear their clothing and gash their skin, and students frequently find bullets, used condoms, sex toys, and dead vermin around the playground equipment.
  • In another school, fires have broken out in hallways and the school lacks the capacity to notify students and teachers and even lacks regulation fire safety equipment.
  • In the same school, the swimming pool has been unusable for over six years, sitting empty except for broken tiles, filth, and dead rodents.

Troubled Detroit schools also suffered a wave of teacher sickouts last year, that closed classrooms for days.


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